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Getting Over Fear

I have an eight-year-old who has been tumbling since she was 4. Her dream has always been to be an all-star cheerleader a dream she has lived for two years. Last summer, she quit doing her back handspring. She had mastered her standing back handspring (it is beautiful!), her round-off series, her round-off handspring tuck, her standing tuck, a standing handspring tuck, her round off handspring layout and had started working on her round-off handspring full twisting layout which she landed twice by herself before she stopped tumbling altogether.

We have tried everything including a sports psychologist. We have tried taking a break. She insists she still wants to cheer and tumble. We tried a new coach with a different technique in a different gym where nobody knows her and knows her ability. Every coach that works with her speaks of her unbelievable talent. To be on her cheer team, you must have a standing back handspring. She will throw it in certain places (ie. trampoline, her bed, and on our couch) but won't throw or even attempt to throw it on the competition mat. She has never been injured tumbling and she used to be fearless. She would try anything.

My question is - at what point do I draw the line. Do you think your video could help someone like her? Is there any chance she will overcome this fear? Will she just "get over it" one day? Please help us if you can. It is heartbreaking to watch her struggle like this.


I don't think my videos will help your daughter... she's advanced well beyond them. You've already attempted all the normal avenues to overcome her fear. Use your good judgment and safety for the following suggestions.

1) Sit with her and "talk" her through an imagined (visualized) series of handspring exercises. The goal is to have her imagine full-speed rehearsals of the handspring in a multitude of environments and conditions, perfectly
& without any fear. If you do this a few times and she's fearless, then it won't help much to continue. If she's indicating fears when imagining it... guide her past that. It may reveal nothing.

2) Modify the surfaces that she WILL perform on. For example: Put a FIRM folding mat on the Trampoline... or a rug, or a piece of floor-mat. MANY modifications should be explored, even if it's handsprings OVER the cat (sleeping on the bed) or over pillows. KEEP expanding and exploring new surface variations. PUT the mattress on the floor instead of on her bed.or put the sofa cushions on the floor, etc.

3) See if you can get an INCLINE mat... 8' long... and put a FIRM folding mat on that & see if she'll perform on that... Then gradually... over 20-30 repetitions... move her starting position LOWER down the incline mat so
that more of the landing is on the LEVEL floor.

4) Make her do MANY MANY more repetitions on ANY surface that she'll perform on... not just ONE or TWO... think 30 repetitions each day. NURTURE the successes. Don't necessarily praise, berate, criticize or encourage any progress... just simply expect her to continue her current successes... more
numerously. Don't make it a highly charged issue.

5) BUILD PRECISION. Wherever she SUCCESSFULLY performs the skill...increase the DEMAND for PRECISION. For example... if she performs the handspring on the trampoline... MARK a perfectly straight line down the center of the trampoline surface... with clear locations for where her toes and fingers should be CONSISTENTLY landing. Her goal can then become "land within a 1/2 inch of those marks 10 times in a row.

6) Have her make VARIATIONS in the entrance and exit of the skill...again... building success and variety WHERE she IS succeeding... and don't worry about where she's not comfortable. For example... have her begin from a handstand... snap down into the handspring. Or start with one foot on front of the other... or step OUT with one foot in front of the other... or step out with a 1/2 turn... INTO a cartwheel... or rebound straddle toe-touch into the standing back-handspring. Or...Make her FROG her handspring... or STRADDLE the legs WIDE... or FLEX her ankles in a goofy way... or tie her ankles together with a sock... FIND WAYS to make it more FUN and GAME-LIKE.... Try different FACES (tongue sticking out). Try having her COUNT your fingers when she's UPSIDE down and in the middle of the skill.

In short... put the PLAY back into her learning. Measure her success in tiny increments over LONG periods of time. Help her remember how to laugh through the errors... bypass the frustrations... and live her tumbling with LOTS of variations in COLOR, STYLE, SPEED, INTENSITY, POWER, VOLUME, and smiles.

Have fun, be safe, push HARD!

You may also be interested in the following:
(FLASH player permission is required to view animations.)
Back Tuck Progressions
Benchmarks of Excellence
Cross Arm Spot
Gymnastics Jump
Jump, Set, Tuck
Lunge to Handstand
Round-Off Hand Placement
Straight Body Fall


Coach Wayne was the Head Coach for the Savannah College of Art and Design Cheerleading team and Executive Coach of Olympic Gymnast Zuzana Sekerova. His articles, videos, and books have been used by students and instructors worldwide since 1991. Coach Wayne is available for tumbling instructor certification training. For booking information, coaches/owners should text or call 912.238.1747.


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